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Republicans have been looking pretty foolish with their Obamacare obsession. They were trying so hard to defund Obamacare last fall that they stumbled into a government shutdown. Had they done nothing, the failure of the Obamcare website would have been the only Obamacare news.
But time has a strange way of changing the political winds. The Obamacare obsession may be looking less foolish as the 2014 election appears closer on the horizon. And so, seemingly unable to relent, House Republicans again throw themselves on Obamacare next week.
The bill up for debate was introduced just on Friday. It’s H.R. 4118, known as the “Suspending the Individual Mandate Penalty Law Equals Fairness Act” or as the “SIMPLE Fairness Act.”
(Get it? Clever naming like that requires the bill to be passed!)
The bill would delay the individual mandate—the requirement that people without insurance buy it or pay a tax penalty. It kicks in this year.
The Obama administration delayed the employer mandate, so why shouldn’t the individual mandate be delayed, too? That’s a matter of simple fairness.
If Republicans hadn’t put in so much effort trying to stop Obamacare, goes the argument on the other side, Obamacare would be working a lot better right now. And it’s not doing that badly, as more and more people are signing up.
So what do you think? The Obamacare debate continues. And Republicans are trying to take it to the election in November.
Here’s the current vote on H.R. 4118, the “Suspending the Individual Mandate Penalty Law Equals Fairness” or “SIMPLE Fairness Act.” Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of February 24, 2014. Subscribe (free!) here.
It turns out that the Internal Revenue Service isn’t all that popular. And it turns out that Republicans in the House will highlight that in a bid to please their constituents! Imagine that!
This week will be IRS week in the House thanks to a couple of bills aimed it curing the IRS’s various ills, and a couple of bills aimed at giving taxpayers a little more control of the money they pay in.
The zinger is a bill from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI). It’s H.R. 3865, the Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act of 2014, and it’s a response to the scandal that broke out last year when it was learned that the IRS was dragging its feet on applications for non-profit status from groups that appeared to have conservative agendas.
A similar bill that will see debate is H.R. 2531, the Protecting Taxpayers from Intrusive IRS Requests Act. It would prohibit the Internal Revenue Service from asking taxpayers questions regarding religious, political, or social beliefs.
In November, the IRS proposed a rule that would prohibit non-profits from doing voter registration and “get out the vote” activities. The IRS says it’s just defining clearly what’s allowed and what’s not, but Republicans aren’t buying that. They see it as an effort to curtail allowable activities that benefit their side. H.R. 2531 is the product of Illinois representative Peter Roskam (R).
The Taxpayer Transparency and Efficient Audit Act, H.R. 2530, would require the IRS to tell taxpayers when it shares their tax information with another government agency, and it limits the time people can be subjected to an IRS audit to one year. That seems nice, not having the IRS push your information out to the National Security Agency, and who wants a years-long audit? The sharing is actually more likely to happen in efforts to implement Obamacare, which requires the IRS to know your health insurance status and probably more.
Then there is the Taxpayers Right-to-Know Act. H.R. 1423 was introduced by Rep. James Lankford (R-OK), and it requires all federal agencies to describe all the programs they have going, their costs, the number of employees running each program, and possible duplication. …Because apparently we don’t already have a way to know all this stuff.
Also, the House will debate H.R. 3308, the Taxpayer Transparency Act. Product of Rep. Billy Long (R-MO). H.R. 3308 would require a Federal agency to include language in certain educational and advertising materials indicating that such materials are produced and disseminated at taxpayer expense. It’s another reaction to Obamacare and Republican concerns about the Department of Health and Human Service’s efforts in 2013 to promote the president’s signature health care law.
By the close of the week, there should be a lot of happy taxpayers out there! All this new information and all these controls on IRS abuses. Well…, we’ll see.
Happy IRS week, everyone!
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of February 17, 2014. Subscribe (free!) here.
The debt limit. Some regard it as an outdated concept. Others think it’s a last chance to control the federal government’s bloated spending.
The debt limit or “debt ceiling” means the federal government can’t go into debt any further than Congress allows. And Congress has allowed more and more debt over years, as the chart on the right shows.
Last week, Congress suspended the debt limit until the spring of 2015. The new debt limit will be set on March 16th, 2015, at the amount of debt the government has run up by that time.
This idea was pretty well agreed upon by the leadership of the House and Senate, which did not want a fight. But it wasn’t agreed to by everyone. And Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) used Senate rules to expose some of his colleagues for allowing what he sees as a get-along go-along deal.
If nobody objects, a bill like S. 540, the Temporary Debt Limit Extension Act, can sail through the Senate without a vote at all. But if someone objects, they can require votes, including a thing called a “cloture” vote, which requires three-fifths of senators, or 60 votes, to approve. It’s a vote on ending debate and proceeding with a bill, so it says, “Yeah, I’d be alright with this bill passing.”
The 60-vote requirement means that some Republicans would have to vote for cloture. They would have to be alright with suspending the debt limit and, in the view of some, letting the government’s spending continue.
Senator Cruz doesn’t think Republicans should be letting that happen, so he used these Senate rules to put his colleagues on the record with a vote.
The results of the cloture vote are here. Just getting to 60 votes would have caused one or two senators to be exposed as providing the crucial vote that allowed the debt limit to be suspended, so the vote was held open while big numbers of Republicans were persuaded to vote this way.
And the Republican senators who backed the cloture on S. 540 were:
John Barrasso (WY)
Susan Collins (ME)
Bob Corker (TN)
John Cornyn (TX)
Jeff Flake (AZ)
Orrin Hatch (UT)
Mike Johanns (NE)
Mark Kirk (IL)
John McCain (AZ)
Mitch McConnell (KY)
Lisa Murkowski (AK)
John Thune (SD)
None of them voted in favor of the bill on the final vote. They just helped it clear the last big hurdle before the final vote.
So will they suffer the repercussions Senator Cruz thinks should meet a Republican who compromises on spending? That depends on the voters in their states. That depends on you.
(In the past, Republicans have sought to win spending constraints from debates about the debt ceiling. For a time, though, this bill was going to have some spending increases in it—reversing a reduction in the cost‐of‐living adjustment for military retirees. Because that plan to spend about $60 per family was also going to extend sequester-like spending controls to 2024, it was going to total about $10 in spending per U.S. family. In the end, it was a “clean” bill—no new spending or spending cuts.)
Alright, enough of the politics. It’s time to take your medicine. Here’s some recent history of the debt ceiling:
The federal government reached the debt limit on May 16, 2011, prompting then-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to declare a “debt issuance suspension period,” allowing certain extraordinary measures to extend Treasury’s borrowing capacity.
On August 2, 2011, President Obama signed the Budget Control Act of 2011 (Public Law 112-25), which tried to reduce spending while allowing the debt limit to rise between $2,100 billion and $2,400 billion in three stages.
Once the Budget Control Act was enacted, presidential certifications triggered a $400 billion increase, raising the debt limit to $14,694 billion, and then a second $500 billion increase on September 22, 2011. A disapproval measure for this increase (H.J. Res. 77) only passed the House. A January 12, 2012, presidential certification triggered a third, $1.2 trillion increase in the debt, while the House passed another disapproval measure (H.J. Res. 98).
The federal debt again reached its limit on December 31, 2012, and extraordinary measures were then used to allow payment of government obligations until February 4, 2013, when Public Law 113-3, the “No Budget, No Pay Act of 2013,” suspended the debt limit until May 19, 2013. As of May 19, the debt limit was set at $16,699 billion and extraordinary measures were again employed.
On September 25, 2013, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew notified Congress that the government would exhaust its borrowing capacity around October 17. The U.S. Treasury would then have a cash balance of only $30 billion. In Public Law 113-46, the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014, Congress suspended the debt limit again, until February 7, 2014. Those “extraordinary measures” kept things going until the votes in the House and Senate this past week on S. 540, the Temporary Debt Limit Extension Act.
So that’s the story on the debt ceiling. You’re going to win “Mr./Ms. Conversational” with that info at your next cocktail party!
Here’s the current vote on it among WashingtonWatch.com users. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article about the bill.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of February 10, 2014. Subscribe (free!) here.
When you were a kid, of course, you asked for do-overs. Things go wrong sometimes! Take it back! Maybe now that you’re a grown-up and a golfer, you call it a mulligan.
That’s what the Senate will deal with this coming week. A do-over!
Section 403 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 (Public Law 113-67) is repealed as of the date of the enactment of such Act.
Section 403 cut military pensions to the tune of $6 billion, and S. 1963 is meant to restore that spending. (We don’t have an official cost estimate, but $6 billion is about $59 per U.S. family.)
The bill is sponsored by Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR), and only fellow Democrats have co-sponsored it, which is a surprise because many Republicans are big fans of military spending and spending that honors the sacrifices of military veterans.
Pryor voted “yes” on the Bipartisan Budget Act even though it had the provision he’s now trying to cut out. This is either because the bill was too important to oppose based on the cut to military pensions, or because he didn’t know the military pension cuts were in there.
Joining Pryor on “team do-over”—all of these cosponsors voted for the bill they are now trying to change—are Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Mark Begich (D-AK), Kay Hagan (D-NC), and Brian Schatz (D-HI).
So, should “team do-over” get to take back the spending cuts in that bill they recently passed? That, as always, is up to you.
Here’s the current vote on S. 1963, a bill to repeal section 403 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of February 3, 2014. Subscribe (free!) here.
Depending on where you get your information about the farm bill that the House passed last week, you might think it is the picture of spending control.
Here are some lines from a recent Congressional Budget Office cost estimate:
“CBO estimates that enacting title I would reduce spending on commodity programs by $14.3 billion over the 2014-2023 period.”
“Title IV of the [bill] would reduce nutrition spending by $8 billion over the 2014-2023 period.”
The savings are piling up! Or so it seems…
But these statements can only be made because of a thing called “baseline budgeting.” That’s when current spending levels are used as the “baseline” with future spending assumed to rise with inflation and population growth. Then you go and look at what the bill does against the baseline.
A program that spent $100 billion last year might be assumed to spend $104 billion this year and $109 billion next year under baseline budgeting. Then, if Congress spends $103 billion and $107 billion, that is called a “cut” of $1 billion and $2 billion. Up is down. Would down be up?
But in its report on the farm bill, which will see debate in the Senate this coming week, the CBO pulls aside the curtain a little bit. Along with making the statements above, CBO says that H.R. 2642, the Agriculture Act of 2014, would spend $956 billion—almost one trillion dollars—over the 2014-2023 period. $756 billion of that is for “nutrition programs,” which is to say “food stamps.”
The CBO even gives us a breakdown of the real spending amounts so we can give you an estimate. H.R. 2642 spends about $7,800 per U.S. family. That’s about $2,500 per man, woman, and child in the United States.
Thanks, CBO! Thanks for being forthcoming about farm bill spending!